Oh, so many subplots in the episode! There’s the Enchanted Forest flashback subplot, which takes place after Charming revived Snow from the Poisoned Apple induced sleeping curse, we’ve got the issue with Emma and Mary Margret/Snow White stuck in ravaged Enchanted Forest who also have to contend with a new advisory in Cora, and then there’s David/Charming, who is hesitant to allow Henry to assist him in the task of bringing Emma and Snow back out of a desire to keep his grandson safe from the side-effects of magic. However, after Henry breaks into Regina’s vault and nearly gets bitten by Agrabahn vipers (are those the same ones the genie/Magic Mirror/Sidney Glass used on King Leopold? Regina still has them? Either there's some sort of enchantment keeping the vipers alive, or those snakes have incredibly long lifespans), he comes to realize that, much like was said in Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon, ‘you can’t stop him, you can only prepare him.’ As such, he agrees to accept Henry’s help, and even begins to help instruct him in swordsmanship. Of course we also see they’re being spied on by Albert Spencer, King George’s Storybrooke counterpart, leaving us thinking ‘aw, crud, he’s still around? Joy bunnies.’
In the flashback, Snow and Charming are beginning their plans to take back the kingdom from King George, but their plans are put on hold when they decide to seek refuge at the cottage of Charming’s birth mother, who is mortally wounded by a stray poisoned arrow when King George’s army track them down. But one of King George’s hired knights, who is none other than Sir Lancelot of King Arthur lore, decides to help them, particularly after King George tricks Snow into drinking an evil potion that leaves her barren. To save his mother’s life, Charming decides to return to Lake Nostros (that place again), hoping the restorative waters will cure the poison’s affects. Of course, since Charming killed the siren back in ‘What Happened to Fredrick,’ the lake is dried up, with only a small amount of the magical water left trapped inside a shell. But Charming’s mother, who learns of Snow’s predicament in route to Lake Nostros, chooses to give up her one chance to be healed and gets Lancelot to sneak the restorative waters into Snow’s drink. It’s really a shame that Charming’s birth mother had to die. She was such a sweet woman, and the fact that she was willing to sacrifice her own life to ensure the happiness of her son, and the daughter-in-law she only just met, proved that.
With Emma and Mary Margret/Snow, they find out that the leader of the village of Enchanted Forest’s refuges is Snow and Charming’s old friend, Lancelot. When Snow comes up with the idea of possibly using the magic wardrobe that was used to spare Emma from Regina’s curse in order to get back to Storybrooke, Lancelot agrees to help by having Mulan accompany them on their journey to Snow and Charming's old castle. There is a temporary issue with Aurora who, still hurting from losing Phillip, blames Emma and Mary Margret/Snow for his death and seriously considers revenge, but that problem is resolved quite quickly, enabling us to focus on the character development going on.
Throughout this subplot, we get the chance to see Emma and her mother trying to figure out how to relate to each other now. For example, their differing ideas with how to deal with Cora in the prison pit in the beginning. Snow, remembering exactly what Cora was like in the past, is all for having nothing to do with her while Emma is believing that she can handle whatever Cora can throw at her, and that it wouldn’t hurt to hear her out, given their current lack of other options. What makes these interactions even more interesting to watch is that both women have equally good points. Snow was correct in feeling that Cora could not be trusted. On the other hand, Emma was trying to keep her head in the game by considering all the possible options, which is in itself a good and oftentimes rare quality. In the end, their interactions are founded by one simple fact. Snow White is a veteran of the Enchanted Forest. She knows the dangers of this land extremely well, and also knows Emma has only spent a few minutes here as a newborn baby. This of course means that she needs someone to help guide her. Emma, however, is a woman who is not accustomed to having someone guide her. She’s had to survive on her own wits for as long as she can remember. So, there’s a part of her that is feeling that Snow is trying to hold her hand and coddle her because she doesn’t feel Emma can take care of herself. But after the whole incident with the ogre (which is nothing at all like how they are depicted in the Shrek franchise) Emma slowly starts to accept that Snow is guiding her not because she thinks her daughter is weak, but because she just doesn’t want to lose her again.
Upon reaching the magical wardrobe within the ruins of Snow and Charming’s castle, they discover that Lancelot was not Lancelot at all, but Cora in disguise. While this is a nice twist, I do have a question about it. If Cora was posing as Lancelot this whole time, then who told that one guard that their leader wanted to see them? Cora was down in the pit when the guard showed up, so how could she be posing as Lancelot in order to ask the guard to fetch Emma and Snow at the exact same time? Does Cora have a Time-turner? Can she make magical clones of herself? Or is this just a minor plothole?
Anyway, after revealing herself, Cora tries to use the wardrobe to get to Storybrooke herself. But Emma, not willing to allow Cora anywhere near Henry, sets the wardrobe on fire. However, this also destroys her chance at getting back, leaving Mulan and Aurora agreeing to help them find another way. No one realizes that Cora returns after they leave to collect some of the wardrobe’s ashes.
Putting your child first really was an underlying theme in this episode, which I quite enjoyed. I think the last time we had a theme that was interwoven throughout both the episode’s subplots was back in ‘The Price of Gold.’ Of course, we see how Charming’s mother willingly gave up her chance to be healed by the water of Lake Nostros so Snow could be spared by the effects of King George’s evil potion. Then, when they reach the ruins of Snow and Charming’s castle, Emma is able to see what would have been her nursery had things played out the way they should have. Seeing this, and hearing her mother talk about the kind of life she’d wanted to have with her, helps her fully grasp how hard it must have been for Snow to send her through the wardrobe but did it because she wanted to spare her from Regina’s curse. Like with Charming’s mother, Ruth, Snow willingly gave up the chance to have the life she’d wanted for the sake of her child. A choice Emma echoes when she quite possibly sacrifices her only chance at returning to Storybrooke and getting back to Henry to keep Cora from getting anywhere near him. What’s really interesting that this self-sacrifice was demonstrated by three generations of women in the same family. First Charming’s mother, then his wife, and finally his daughter.
That was a really good scene this episode with Henry and Jefferson/the Mad Hatter. Jefferson is still too afraid to reach out to his daughter, even though she now has her memories back and is clearly looking for him, on account of how he fears she will hate him for how he left her. However, Henry is someone who knows what it’s like to be left by a parent, making him the perfect person to give Jefferson the push he needs. Although, the difference between Jefferson and Emma is that Jefferson did not intend to leave Grace and only did so because Regina tricked him. With Emma, she left Henry because she didn’t feel like she was good enough to be his mother and thought he’d be better off without her. Although, I suppose that’s all semantics. Regardless, Henry’s words resonate with Jefferson, giving him the courage to reunite with Grace/Paige at last. And it is a really sweet reunion, seeing as how Grace doesn’t seem angry at him at all and just runs over to him. The only downside is that this is the very last time we ever see Jefferson, unless you count his appearance in flashbacks. While I know his storyline is completed in this episode, he was a rather fun character, so it’s a shame he never comes back for even a brief cameo after this.